Underworld: Mugshots from the Roaring Twenties

National Exhibition Register

  • DES17_FP07_0129_007.jpg
    Image Credit
    Arthur Caddy 6 March 1929. Special Photograph number 1714. New South Wales Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums

About the exhibition

Welcome to the dark side of the roaring twenties. Descend into a seedy underworld where the only rules were never squeal to the police and always, always shoot first. Criminals thrived during the turbulent 1920s when rapid societal change led to the opening of new illicit markets for entrepreneurial felons. Sydney’s police photographers captured the zeitgeist of the era in these unexpectedly candid mug shots of cocaine sellers and addicts, sly-grog purveyors and small-time criminals. Bosses, bruisers, plotters and petty crims are captured by the camera as they stare down the lens into history.

The stories of the suspects who range from stone-cold gangsters to wayward youth give a favour of the strangely hierarchical criminal world. Fast times bred new crimes creating policing challenges ranging from reckless joyriders to the emergence of the Mafia and razor gangs. However the mugshots document more than just crime; they detail the rise and fall of trends such as the flapper and illustrate the post-war movement of people between Sydney and other cities such as New York and London.

Over 100 captivating images of suspects taken by NSW Police between 1920 and 1930 reproduced from the original glass negatives. Known to police as ‘Special’ photographs they are unexpectedly raw and intriguing portraits of people in custody unlike any found elsewhere in the world.

Artists and Curator

Nerida Campbell

Available Dates and
Exhibition Details

Available dates
01/05/2022 - 31/12/2025
Exhibition size
Between 75-100 sq or running metres
Originating state
Organised by
Sydney Living Museums
Contact to discuss
Web Site
Accompanying materials available
Catalogue/Book, Exhibition Tour Manual, Installation Support Available, Labels, Media Kit, Public Program Opportunities
Primary contact
Tara Kita
Senior Producer Travelling Exhibitions
Sydney Living Museums
02 8239 2265 / 0405 341 112
Underword: Mugshots from the Roaring Twenties is a travelling exhibition from Sydney Living Museums